[eDebate] GLB Work Research: Results and Thanks

mariesa at mail.utexas.edu mariesa
Fri May 5 19:58:36 CDT 2006

Thanks to all those who participated in the survey I posted the link to earlier;
your contribution was invaluable.  I've completed my thesis (turned it in
earlier today) and thought I'd share some results for those of you who are
curious.  A (relatively) short overview of the research question and findings:

It is often argued that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (GLBs) do not need legal
protection from employment discrimination since they could just shield
themselves from discrimination by not disclosing their sexual orientation to
their employers.  It is also argued that if GLBs were not to disclose to their
employers, the gay-straight wage gap would disappear.  (Other research
documents significant differences in wages between GLBs and heterosexuals; the
consensus is that gay men earn around 20% less than heterosexual men while
lesbians earn around 30% more than heterosexual women.  I'll discuss the
suspected causes of these wage differences below, but discrimination is a
factor that could cause the earnings of gay men to be lower than those of
heterosexual men.)  The point of my research was to determine if GLBs who were
out to their employers suffered from more discrimination and earned lower wages
than their non-out counterparts and whether the gay-straight wage gap would
close if GLBs just did not disclose their sexual orientations.

I find that GLBs do not pay a wage premium for disclosing their sexual
orientation to their employers; in other words, all else equal, out and non-out
GLBs earn the same.  The implication of these findings is that the gay-straight
wage gap would persist even if no GLBs disclosed their sexual orientations.  I
arrived at these results using regression analysis.  I controlled for
education, experience, number of hours worked, and geography (whether
individual lives in metropolitan area, what U.S. region the individual lives

There are a number of reasons why disclosure may not matter.
1.  Private Information - First, GLBs probably decide whether to disclose based
on private information about their employers.  Hence, because GLBs are only
likely to disclose if they believe that they will not be discriminated against,
out GLBs could not be made better off by changing their disclosure status.  This
causes out and non-out GLBs to earn the same.

2.  Antidiscrimination Laws - Although there are no federal laws prohibiting
sexual orientation discrimination in private sector employment, a number of
states have such statutes.  People were 29% more likely to disclose if they
lived in a state that prohibited discrimination in the private sector, either
because of the protections given by those laws, or because the laws are a
signal of tolerance in that state.  The protection of laws, then, could also
cause out and non-out GLBs to earn the same.

3.  Large standard errors on the estimates (due to small size of the sample, 63
observations) may have caused disclosure not to matter, statistically speaking.
 However, the fact that the returns to education, experience, and hours worked
were reasonable and significant inspires confidence in these results.

You might ask: if disclosure does not matter, then what explains the
gay-straight wage gap?

1.  Industry and Occupation - Studies suggest gay men and lesbians sort into
different industries and occupations than heterosexual men and women,
respectively.  This sorting may be partially due to discrimination; some GLBs
may take lower paying jobs with more tolerant work environments.  Or, this
sorting could be due to a willingness to traverse traditional gender roles; gay
men sorting into lower paying "traditionally female" occupations and lesbians
sorting into higher paying "traditionally male" occupations could cause gay men
to earn less than heterosexual men and lesbians to earn more than heterosexual

2.  Household specialization - Some of the difference in wages between men and
women is due to specialization differences within households.  Men who
anticipate being the breadwinner in their households will invest more in
market-oriented skills such as education.  Women who anticipate specializing in
household production will not make these types of human investments. Differences
in specialization could explain wage differences between GLBs and heterosexuals,
too.  Gay men may earn less because married heterosexual men are better able to
specialize in market production.  Lesbians may earn more because, knowing they
were less likely to specialized in household production, invested more than
heterosexual women in market-oriented human capital.

3.  Leisure - Decisions to work (and how long to work) are often based on the
income of one's partner.  As a couple, gay men earn about as much as a married
heterosexual couple.  Lesbian couples earn 18% less.  Individually,
heterosexual men earn the most, followed by: gay men, lesbians, heterosexual
women, in that order.  Compared to heterosexual men, gay men may choose more
leisure since their partners earn more than the wives of the heterosexual men. 
Compared to heterosexual women, lesbians may choose less leisure since their
partners earn less than the husbands of heterosexual women.  The knowledge
about the income of a potential partner certainly could influence human capital
investments earlier in life.

The bottom line is that disclosure doesn't affect earnings, and the gay-straight
wage gap wouldn't vanish even if all GLBs stayed in the closet.

Want to know more? Send me an email: mariesa at mail.utexas.edu

Some cites I used in what was intended to be a casual discussion:
Badgett, M. V. L., & King, M. C. (1997). Lesbian and Gay Occupational
Strategies. In A. Gluckman & B. Reed (Eds.), Homo Economics: Capitalism,
Community, and Lesbian and Gay Life (pp. 65-86). New York: Routledge.

Berg, N., & Lien, D. (2002, October). Measuring the Effect of Sexual Orientation
on Income: Evidence of Discrimination? Contemporary Economic Policy, 20(4),

Black, D. A., Makar, H. R., Sanders, S. G., & Taylor, L. J. (2003, April). The
Effects of Sexual Orientation on Earnings. Industrial and Labor Relations
Review, 56(3), 449-469.

Klawitter, M. M., & Flatt, V. (1998). The Effects of State and Local
Antidiscrimination Policies on Earnings for Gays and Lesbians. Journal of
Policy Analysis and Management, 17(4), 658-686.

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